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John Jacob Astor IV
John Jacob Astor IVb.jpg
Astor in 1895
Born July 13, 1864
Rhinebeck, New York
Died April 15, 1912 (aged 47)
RMS Titanic (sunk), North Atlantic Ocean
Place of burial Trinity Church Cemetery
Alma mater Harvard University
Net worth $85 million ($2.08 billion in 2012 dollars)
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Ava Lowle Willing
(m. 1891—1909; divorced)
Madeleine Talmage Force
(m. 1911—1912; his death)
Children William Vincent Astor
Ava Alice Muriel Astor
John Jacob Astor VI
Parents William Backhouse Astor, Jr.
Caroline Webster Schermerhorn

John Jacob "Jack" Astor IV [1] (July 13, 1864 – April 15, 1912) was an American businessman, real estate builder, investor, inventor, writer, lieutenant colonel in the Spanish-American War, and a member of the prominent Astor family. In April 1912, Astor earned a prominent place in history when he embarked on the ocean liner RMS Titanic, which hit an iceberg four days into its voyage and sank in the early hours of April 15. Astor was among the 1,514 people on board who did not survive. He was the richest passenger aboard the Titanic, and was thought to be among the richest people in the world at that time.


Early life, education, and familyEdit

A prominent member of the Astor family, Jack was born on July 13, 1864. He the youngest of five children and only son of businessman, collector, and race horse breeder/owner William Backhouse Astor, Jr. (1829–1892) and socialite Caroline Webster "Lina" Schermerhorn (1830–1908). His four elder sisters were Emily (1854—1881), Helen (1855—1893), Charlotte (1858—1920), and Caroline (Carrie) (1861—1948). He was a great-grandson of fur-trader John Jacob Astor (1763—1848) and Sarah Todd (1761—1834), whose fortune made the Astor family one of the wealthiest families in the United States. Jack's paternal grandfather William Backhouse Astor, Sr. (1792—1875) was a prominent real estate businessman. Through his paternal grandmother Margaret Rebecca Armstrong (1800—1872), Jack was also a great-grandson of Senator John Armstrong, Jr. (1758—1843) and Alida Livingston (1761—1822) of the Livingston family. Astor attended St Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire and later attended Harvard University.[2] Jack was also a nephew of financer/philanthropist John Jacob Astor III (1822–1890) and grandnephew of John Jacob Astor, Jr. (1791–1869). Helen's husband was diplomat James Roosevelt "Rosey" Roosevelt (1854—1927), half-brother of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the Roosevelt family. Carrie, a noted philanthropist, was the wife of Marshall Orme Wilson (1860—1926), brother of banker Richard Thornton Wilson, Jr. and socialite Grace Graham Wilson.



In February 1891, Astor married socialite Ava Lowle Willing (1868–1958), a daughter of Edward Shippen Willing and Alice Barton. The couple had two children:

Jack and Ava divorced in November 1909.

Since divorce was considered a scandal back then, all in society were shocked when Astor announced that he would marry again.[2] At the age of 47, Jack married 18-year-old socialite Madeleine Talmage Force (1893–1940), the sister of socialite and missionary Katherine Emmons Force (1890–1956). Katherine and Madeleine's parents were William Hurlbut Force and Katherine Arvilla Talmage. They were married in his mother's ballroom at Beechwood, the family's Newport, Rhode Island house. There was also much controversy over their 29-year age difference.[3] His son Vincent despised Madeleine,[4] yet he served as best man at Jack and Madeleine's wedding.[5] despite his contempt for Madeline. The couple took an extended honeymoon in Europe and Egypt to wait for the gossip to calm down. Among the few Americans who did not spurn him at this time was Margaret Brown, later fictionalized as The Unsinkable Molly Brown. She accompanied the Astors to Egypt and France and, by coincidence, was called home to the U.S. at the same time the Astors also found it necessary to abbreviate their touring.[2]


Among Astor's accomplishments was A Journey in Other Worlds, an 1894 science fiction novel about life in the year 2000 on the planets Saturn and Jupiter.[6] He also patented several inventions, including a bicycle brake in 1898, a "vibratory disintegrator" used to produce gas from peat moss, and a pneumatic road-improver, and helped develop a turbine engine. Astor made millions in real estate. In 1897, Astor built the Astoria Hotel, "the world's most luxurious hotel",[7] in New York City, adjoining the Waldorf Hotel owned by Astor's cousin, Viscount William Waldorf Astor (1848–1919). The complex became known as the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, coincidentally becoming the host location to the U.S. inquiries into the sinking of the RMS Titanic, in which Colonel Astor was killed.[2]

From 1894 to 1896, he was on the staff of Governor Levi P. Morton.[8] Shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Astor personally financed a volunteer artillery unit known as the "Astor Battery", which saw service in the Philippines. Astor was appointed a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Volunteers and served as a staff officer in Cuba during the Santiago Campaign. During this time he allowed his yacht, the Nourmahal, to be used by the U.S. government. During the war, Astor appeared in the films President McKinley's Inspection of Camp Wikoff in 1898 and Col. John Jacob Astor, Staff and Veterans of the Spanish-American War in 1899.[2] As a result of his military service, Astor was entitled to the Spanish Campaign Medal.


Astor and his second wife Madeleine Talmage Force.

Astor was a member of several military and hereditary societies. He was an early member of the New York Society of Colonial Wars and was assigned membership number 138. He was also a member of the Military Order of Foreign Wars, Society of the Army of Santiago and the Society of the American Wars of the United States.

His estate "Ferncliff," north of the town center of Rhinebeck, New York, with a mile and a half of Hudson river frontage in the picturesque Lower Hudson River Valley, had been purchased piecemeal by his father in the mid-19th century; Astor was born there.[9] His father's Italianate house of 1864 was partly rebuilt in 1904 to designs by Stanford White of McKim, Mead, and White, retaining its conservative exterior, and a sports pavilion in Louis XVI style was added.[10] The "Casino" or "Astor Courts" reportedly housed the first residential indoor swimming pool in the U.S., an indoor tennis court with vaulting of Guastavino tile, and guest bedrooms; in the lower level were a bowling alley and a shooting range.[11] The estate, reduced to 50 acres (200,000 m2) and renamed "Astor Courts," eventually became a wedding venue. The wedding of Chelsea Clinton took place there on July 31, 2010.


While traveling, Madeleine became pregnant, and wanting the child born in the U.S., the Astors boarded the RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage to New York. They embarked in Cherbourg, France, in first class and were the wealthiest passengers aboard. Accompanying the Astors were Astor's valet, Victor Robbins; Madeleine's maid, Rosalie Bidois, and her nurse, Caroline Louise Endres. They also took their pet Airedale, Kitty. The Astors were deeply fond of their dog and had come close to losing her on a previous trip when she went missing in Egypt. Kitty did not survive the sinking.[12][13] A short while after the Titanic hit the iceberg that caused her to sink, Astor informed his wife of the collision, but told her that the damage did not appear to be serious. Some time later as the ship's lifeboats for first class were being manned, Colonel Astor remained unperturbed; he and his family played with the mechanical horses in the gymnasium. At some point Astor is thought to have sliced the lining of an extra lifebelt with a pen knife to show his wife its contents, either to prove that they were not of use or to reassure her that they were.

When Second Officer Charles Lightoller later arrived on A Deck to finish loading Lifeboat 4, Astor helped his wife, with her maid and nurse, into it. He then asked if he might join his wife because she was in 'a delicate condition'; however, Lightoller told him that men were not to be allowed to board until all the women and children had been loaded. After Lifeboat 4 was lowered at 1:55 am, Astor is said to have stood alone while others tried to free the remaining collapsible boats;[2] he was last seen alive on the starboard bridge wing, smoking a cigarette with Jacques Futrelle. A mere half hour later, the ship disappeared beneath the ocean. Madeleine, her nurse, and her maid survived. Colonel Astor and his valet, Victor Robbins, did not.

According to Titanic passenger Archibald Gracie IV, "She was lifted up through the window, and her husband helped her on the other side, and when she got in, her husband was on one side of this window and I was on the other side, at the next window. I heard Mr Astor ask the second officer whether he would not be allowed to go aboard this boat to protect his wife. He said, 'No, sir, no man is allowed on this boat or any of the boats until the ladies are off.' Mr Astor then said, 'Well, tell me what is the number of this boat so I may find her afterwards,' or words to that effect. The answer came back, "No. 4."[14]

In the aftermath, ships were sent out to retrieve the bodies from the site of the sinking; of the 1,517 passengers and crew that perished in the sinking, only 333 bodies were ever recovered. Colonel Astor's body was recovered on April 22 by the steamer Mackay-Bennett, a cable-ship chartered by White Star Line (the Titanic's shipping company). Astor was identified by the initials sewn on the label of his jacket. Among the items found on him was a gold pocket watch which his son Vincent claimed and wore the rest of his life.

CLOTHING – Blue serge suit; blue handkerchief with "A.V."; belt with gold buckle; brown boots with red rubber soles; brown flannel shirt; "J.J.A." on back of collar.
EFFECTS – Gold watch; cuff links, gold with diamond; diamond ring with three stones; £225 in English notes; $2440 in notes; £5 in gold; 7s. in silver; 5 ten franc pieces; gold pencil; pocketbook.

Astor was buried in Trinity Church Cemetery in New York City. Four months after the Titanic sunk, Madeleine Astor gave birth to his second son, socialite John Jacob "Jakey" Astor VI (1912–1992).[2][15]

Cause of deathEdit

For many years there has been conflicting and contradictory information regarding the exact manner in which Astor perished in the sinking. Many researchers have expressed the belief that Astor was crushed to death by one of the ship's falling funnels, this opinion being based on the claim that his body was recovered in a mangled state, but all who examined his body maintained that it was in perfect condition with no bruising.[2][16] Survivor Philip Mock claimed to have seen Astor in the water clinging to a raft with William Stead. "Their feet became frozen," said Mock, "and they were forced to release their hold. Both were drowned."[17]


Astor left $69 million of his $85 million estate ($2.08 billion in 2012 dollars)[18] to Vincent.[19] This value included his estate in Rhinebeck and his yacht, the Noma. To Madeleine, he left a $5 million trust fund and an annual paycheck of $500,000, as well as use of his New York mansion 65th & Fifth Avenue, all its furnishings, and his Newport mansion Beechwood and all of its furnishings, pick of whichever luxury limo she wanted from his collection and five of his prized horses—as long as she did not remarry. His daughter Ava (who lived with her mother, also named Ava) received a $10 million trust fund. Upon turning 21, Jakey inherited $3 million.[20]


John Jacob Astor 1909

John Jacob Astor IV in 1909.

Astor's prominence led to the creation of many exaggerated and unsubstantiated accounts about his actions during the sinking of the Titanic. One story alleges that he opened Titanic's kennel and released the dogs; in another, he placed a woman's hat on a boy to make sure the child was able to get into a lifeboat. Another legend claims that after the ship hit the iceberg, he quipped, "I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous." These stories appeared in newspapers, magazines, and even books about the sinking. In reality, none of the claims about Astor's actions were substantiated, as nobody who recognized him survived other than the women who boarded lifeboats relatively early on.[21] Wade wrote that the ice joke is almost certainly apocryphal, as Astor was not known for making jokes, and that the story about the hat (like many other 'survivor stories' published shortly after the sinking) may have been invented by the reporter.[21]


Astor's fame has made him a frequent character in films about the Titanic. German actor Karl Schönböck played Astor in the 1943 Nazi propaganda film Titanic. William Johnstone played Astor in the 1953 film Titanic, and in the 1997 version of Titanic he was played by Eric Braeden.

In the 1996 miniseries, he was played by Scott Hylands. Astor was also portrayed by David Janssen in the 1979 film S.O.S. Titanic. Perennially, in the town of Astoria, Oregon (so named for Astor's patrilineal great-grandfather), he is portrayed by a local amateur actor in street corner vignettes. He was played by Miles Richardson in the 2012 Titanic miniseries.


  1. "John Jacob Astor IV Biography - Facts, Birthday, Life Story -". Retrieved 16 July 2013. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 "John Jacob Astor IV". Encyclopedia Titanica. Retrieved 2010-10-27. "Colonel John Jacob Astor IV was born in Rhinebeck, New York on July 13th, 1864 the son of William Astor and great-grandson of John Jacob Astor the fur trader. Astor was educated at St. Paul's School, Concord and later went to Harvard. After a period of travelling abroad (1888–91) he returned to the United States to manage the family fortune. He had homes at 840 Fifth Avenue, New York and at Ferncliff, Rhinebeck, New York....." 
  3. "Titanic Survivor Stories - Madeleine Talmage Force Astor". Retrieved 17 July 2013. 
  4. "Part II: Vincent, the Astor Who Gave Away the Money". NewYorkSocialDaily. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  5. "COL. ASTOR WEDS MADELEINE FORCE :: New York Times". encyclopedia titanica. Retrieved 17 July 2013. 
  6. John Wilson Foster, The Age of Titanic: Cross-Currents in Anglo-American Culture (2002).
  7. Turkel, Stanley (4 April 2007). "The Original Waldorf/Astoria Hotel". 
  8. Wikisource-logo "Astor, John Jacob. An American capitalist, inventor, and soldier". New International Encyclopedia. 1905. 
  9. Automobile Club of America, The Club Journal 2 (November 12, 1910) "Little Journeys to the Homes of Members: Ferncliff", pp1002ff.
  10. Paul Goldberger, A Monograph of the works of McKim, Mead & White, 1879–1915, 1985.
  11. Retrieved on September 10, 2011.
  12. "Fate of the pets who sailed on the Titanic". October 2, 2010. Retrieved September 10, 2011. 
  13. "John Jacob Astor IV". Retrieved February 16, 2012. 
  14. United States Senate Inquiry into the Titanic. Online reference
  15. "Son for Mrs. Astor. Named for Father. Both Mother and Baby Said to be Very Well, the Child Strong and Well Formed.". New York Times. August 15, 1912, Thursday. Retrieved June 22, 2008. "Baby is the Sixth John Jacob Astor. Mrs. Madeleine Force Astor, survivor of he Titanic....." 
  16. "The Two Deaths of John Jacob Astor -George Behe's " Titanic " Tidbits". 
  17. "Stead and Astor cling to Raft" (Worcester Telegram, 20 April 1912)
  18. "WolframAlpha". Retrieved 20 April 2012. 
  19. "Astor Bequests Have All Been Paid". New York Times. Retrieved 20 April 2012. 
  20. "Astor Estate Goes To Son". The Evening News. 7 May 1912.,1723472&dq=madeleine+force+astor&hl=en. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 Wade, Wyn Craig (1979, 1986 (revised)). Titanic: End of a Dream. New York City: Penguin Books. pp. 70–73. ISBN 978-0140166910. 

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